Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Promotion As Listening

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday about customer awareness. Making aware is where we started, but we soon found ourselves talking about becoming aware, because it turns out that's where the action is.

Promotion (whether selling, marketing, advertising, reporting, delegating, or simply offering an opinion) is widely assumed to be about getting your message across. But really that is only the tail of the dog. Before wagging yours (tail or tongue), you need to hear your customer's message. Real empathic listening is required, where you say nothing except for clarification, and you try to understand what life is like for your customer. Only when your customer feels they have been heard will they be truly receptive to your offers. And only then will they be willing to partner with you to match your offers with their needs.

Being heard builds receptivity and trust which make room for the exploration and self-expression upon which real collaboration is based. It also provides plenty of room for cynicism and manipulation. You may not always be able to avoid those temptations, but you can cultivate an awareness of them in your own behavior. Over time, that awareness will lead to positive change that will make promotion of any kind easier, more fun, and more fulfilling for all concerned.

Writing this reminds me of reading Playboy magazine when I was in college. I was a bit young, and I had no idea how to hook up with girls. I read a lot about getting to know a girl, but the advice always seemed to come with a cynical twist related to "getting somewhere" with her. Or maybe it was me. In any case, it was only much later in my life that I started hearing the advice without the cynicism. And I've since heard (and seen) it applied not just to romantic relationships, but to sales, conflict-resolution, making presentations, coaching, child-rearing, negotiation, and even just plain conversation.

Empathy – providing the experience of feeling heard – is a magic key. You can see it working when the other party's defensiveness begins to drain away. Their posture and voice tone change and your conversation becomes more mutual. Asking "Is there anything else you would like me to understand?" can help deepen the experience.

As you struggle with business promotion in these challenging times, I encourage you to enlist empathy as a strategic tool.